While not alone in undertaking dual F4 campaigns, Hugh Barter’s go at the French and Spanish titles is unique in requiring him to swap between two completely different chassis, engine and tyre packages
Formula Scout caught up with Hugh Barter before the summer break to discuss the challenges of his twin Formula 4 campaign so far, including points ineligibility and his main challengers.
Before the start of the season, 16-year-old Australian was relaxed about alternating between French series’ Renault-powered Mygale chassis running on Pirelli tyres and the Hankook-shod Tatuus-Autotecnica combination used in Spain.
“Yeah, actually, at the start of the season I wasn’t so worried about it and then I did one round in the Spanish [which] went well, came out second in the championship and then I did Jerez and it was a real big struggle,” he laughs. “I just lacked pace across the weekend.”
“We went through a lot of ideas [with my engineer] on what I could change with myself because I don’t think the car itself is pretty different, but the biggest factor is that the tyres are like night and day. The Hankook is completely different to the Pirelli in how you just enter a corner, how you manage your brake and throttle trace.”
Tyre degradation is higher overall with the Pirellis, he believes, although interestingly he feels that “the rears seem to degrade more in the Spanish series while the fronts seem to degrade more in the French”.
“In the French you can turn and brake at the same time while in Spain it’s like combined doesn’t exist, which is good for me to learn to adapt my driving style.”
He believes that he’s now gained a better understanding of how to react to what each car and tyre combination is telling him.
“At Valencia I started figuring this out, but I made a small but crucial mistake in qualifying one that cost me a lot of positions.”
Pole for race three proved “pace was there”, and then “in the last test at Aragon, we were fastest in the test”.
“Now I’m a lot more confident in switching between the two and I know what to do when I’m in the car.”
Besides the different equipment, the two series differ in another key respect: the Spanish series runs with a traditional team structure while all the cars in France are operated centrally by the FFSA Academy.
“Having teams makes a big difference,” says Barter. “There’s a lot of preparation and work put into the weekend such as studying data and telemetry and video before you [even] come to the race event.”
This wider technical freedom, allied to the greater track time in Spain, forces drivers to learn how to work with their own race engineer to perfect car set-ups. “You can change whatever you want – ride heights, springs, camber, caster or the geometry of the car – which is good. I think there are only a few things that are limited.”
Across the Pyrenees, however, the philosophy is “quite the opposite”, explains Barter. “You can change the wings and the rollbars and that’s it, I think.”
“In the French it really comes down to the driver’s skill. You have to adapt your driving style to the car, which can be good and bad because sometimes you can develop bad habits in your driving style.”
Interestingly, he believes that the absence of a team environment in France has another impact too.
“It makes you mature a bit more because you’re doing it almost on your own. You really have to look after yourself and be on your toes at all times because if you slack off, there’s no one there to tell you [what to do].”
Barter went into the summer break with an imperious display at Spa-Francorchamps for French F4’s first visit to the circuit since 2020, taking two wins, two poles and three fastest laps.
However, despite having now been victorious in seven out of eight non-reversed grid races so far this year, Barter came away from Belgium with his championship lead cut to 21 points by Honda junior Souta Arao.
Having already raced at Spa in Spanish F4 earlier in 2022, Barter was not allowed to score points in the French F4 round. A further weekend without points awaits at Valencia’s Ricardo Tormo circuit in September, as he went there in Spanish F4 in June.
Arao has been the most consistent threat to Barter in France. Alessandro Giusti and Elliott Vayron came in with high expectations after strong finishes to the 2021 season, but neither has won this year.
“At the moment I think Souta has been the most consistent pace-wise across all the rounds,” says Barter. “He’ll be my main competition.”
“I was expecting it to be a really tough championship and it seems like Souta has kind of taken that position and he’s really giving it to me. We’ll see how it is after the break because a lot of things can change especially in the mindset of a driver.”
Meanwhile after a strong opening weekend in Portugal, Barter has been pushed onto the back foot in Spanish F4 by the phenomenal pace of Campos Racing team-mate Nikola Tsolov, who has proved virtually unstoppable with nine wins, including eight in a row, 10 poles and 11 fastest laps from 12 races this season.
Ahead of the final three Spanish rounds, Barter trails Fernando Alonso protege Tsolov by a huge 118 points and says that: “It’s a good thing that he’s in my team, I’m learning a lot from him and I guess he could say the same.”
Now that he feels confident with the set-up of the Tatuus chassis and especially the Hankook tyres, Barter is optimistic about getting back on terms with the Bulgarian rookie in the remaining races.
“At the last test there was half a tenth between us. Now I’ve finally wrapped my head around the tyre, I think I can really take it to him into these next rounds. At Spa I was half-a-tenth off him, at Valencia I was a bit faster. Just making small mistakes.
“For the rest of championship, hopefully, it’s me on the top step and not him!” he laughs.
Being in the same team means Barter is able to see Tsolov’s data, and he doesn’t believe that there are particular areas where the championship leader has a clear edge.
“I wouldn’t say [anything] particular, though we have different strong areas. He’s maybe stronger in getting a good exit and I might be good at carrying minimum. It’s just two very different driving styles and our cars are quite different in the way that we’ve set them up.”
He indicates that this might be due to rookies not having to adjust from the first-generation F4 cars used in 2021: “Someone who’s grown up on this new generation F4 is going to have a different driving style to someone who’s done last year in their Gen1s.”
Barter came second in French F4 in his rookie year in single-seaters, and feels that he has gained in confidence through his sophomore year in cars “and I think it’s a huge reason to why this year has been going a lot better”.
“After round one the confidence was higher, especially even after the Spanish F4, the first win of the season. With obviously another one to come, hopefully,” he says smiling.
Barter’s Formula 4 record
Overall, the different approaches adopted by the two championships have, he believes, helped accelerate his development.
“Both have their positives and negatives, [and] for me it’s good, I can learn in both circumstances. I’m happy that I’m doing both championships.
“The momentum is there, and the pace is there in both championships so hopefully it can carry on after the summer break.”